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TERA has a great 'first glance': from marketing materials, through to game installation and initial impressions, it does a great job of creating the illusion many MMORPG'ers look for. It is of a high-fidelity graphics-wise, runs incredibly well (both client and server-side) and generally has a polish and gloss unusual (no, unheard of) for a studio's first title. It is hard to fault TERA technically - the execution is sublime.
Although part of the publishing cycle, and therefore probably not under direct stewardship of Bluehole Studio, I would like to bring attention to one element of many games' cycle that, unless done badly, never seems to receive any attention. If it were not for the colour palette, the scantily clad 'bunny' girls or swords the length of a double-decker bus, you would bet your mortgage on TERA being of western origin. The language is concise yet elegant, the lexicon is advanced yet clear and the text is littered with cultural references and clever puns that are sly winks to a westernised audience. Well done the localisation team – I've never seen such a fantastic localisation job in a video game. Fullstop (or should that be Period)?
However, this would be the first area of contention I have with TERA. In spite of its exquisitely executed localisation, you'd be hard pushed to miss the fact that this is a MMORPG of Asian origin. Some of these Asian elements will sit well with the western gamer, such as the action-orientated combat, but others will possibly alienate those with no previous interest in art direction Asian-style. It is all here – over-sized weaponry, characters with the bodies of adults and the faces of children (along with the obligatory Panda race – the Popori), armour that Dita Von Tesse would find impractical even for the burlesque stage, sound effects that could have been recorded from one of your five-year-old's play sessions, a colour-palette from one of Syd Barrett's dreams and a general naivety to the art direction that doesn't match western expectations of high-fantasy, nevermind those large swathes of people who prefer their fantasy a little closer to the ground.
This is not to distract from the technical prowess of the art team who I would not exclude from the closing sentence of my opening paragraph. The artwork is very beautiful and wonderfully realised, it just isn't going to appeal to most western gamers. In the same way as my structural engineer friend finds Picasso uncomfortable and Jan Matejko infinitely more palatable (because, as my friend puts it, he paints every every last detail and leaves nothing to chance), western populations may see sexual representations of barely-legal (or worse) characters where an Asian sees an opportunity to mould an avatar with desirable cultural characteristics. I'll leave the nitty gritty to Freudian anthropologists.
Art direction aside, the character creation is rather good. You can choose from a variety of presets for things such as face and hair or, for the more adventurous, delve into sliders that allow you to define all the important parts of your character's facial structure. The downside is that a few texture choices (eye colour, makeup, beard, moles) are lumped into once choice, meaning the chance of your preferred combination of features being available is slim. There are also a lot a choices with regard to hair and skin colour, although I was disappointed to find 10 shades of blonde. On the whole, I was pleasantly pleased with the customisation available at creation, although I didn't manage to feel particularly comfortable with any of my creations, which is my cue bring art direction back into the review.
Known to play everything from a rotund slob to a withered old hag, I would definitely have liked to see some further character creation choices. Possibly for the body, although it is always understandable when this is not available, but definitely some options to alter the age appearance of avatars. There are several choices for male characters that could pass for anything up to mid-forties (and I can remember one facial texture that could pass for older), but I couldn't find a female facial texture that looked older than twenty (most look a lot younger). On the whole, I feel there is little opportunity to create a truly unique character within each individual race, which is disappointing given the excellent customisation afforded by the sliders. I use character in the truest sense of the word for those who rightly point out that you can make some very different looking avatars - it was simply my experience that no matter the dimensions of the face, it looked like it belonged to the same personality.
This game has bouncing breasts and there has been a lot of discussion about it, most of it light-hearted. Personally, I have no issue with it – breasts bouncing is no different than hair waving in the wind. I play Mortal Online, a game that has full nudity – I have no beef with bits and bobs that most of us have. What dismayed me was the sneaking suspicion that female avatars were being sexualised at almost every opportunity. Added to the inability to make a female character look older than a young age, the lack of modest armour available for female characters and the body-type of females being a consistent ideal (not necessarily my ideal) across all races, bouncing breasts looks more an aesthetic decision than an artistic one. It has been pointed out that male characters are also sexualised by some of the armour, but I'm not sure that's the point. If you want to play a female avatar, you have to wear sexy armour – the male avatar has a choice. Finally, because I've been typing for a long time, most of the females have bigger packages than the men. Don't believe me, go and have a look at some of the texture work on female crotch areas.
I was planning on writing a proper review of most of the game's systems, so when I have got over my hang-ups on art-direction, I will come back and finish this (probably in instalments) if people seem interested. If not, sorry for boring you!